screen shot of study abroad students cookingStudents cook spaghetti with marinara sauce together via Zoom.What do you do when you’re supposed to study abroad in a country that becomes a hotbed for an international pandemic? You improvise and build resilience.

Collat marketing professor Michele Bunn, Ph.D., faced this challenging dilemma teaching her course “Innovation and Entrepreneurship in a Global Environment.” The experiential study-abroad class spent two months learning about Italian business and innovation, and was to conclude with an eight-day study tour of Italy. At least that was the plan in January 2020.

Like her students, Bunn was shocked to watch COVID-19 spread across northern Italy, then heartbroken knowing she wouldn’t be able to take the students.

Bunn has taught the course each spring for the past four years, showing the students the ins and outs of one of her favorite places. Previous classes visited everything from innovation centers to exotic car factories to olive oil manufacturers. Without the trip, Bunn needed to pivot and create new “experiential” activities.

“At that point, students may have said, ‘Well I didn’t get to go to Italy so tell me what I have to do to finish this course and get it over,” she says. “But then I asked, ‘How do we find something positive to come of this?’”

Dr. Bunn cookingDr. Mickey Bunn teaches students how to manage adversity (and make killer marinara ).Bunn started by pulling from several organizations. She reached out to Gerriann Fagan, UAB’s organizational development manager who leads professional development workshops for UAB employees. Fagan kicked off the new experiential activities for the students with a session on emotional intelligence (EQ).Dr. Bunn led an Italian cooking class from her home when her study abroad class could not travel to Italy.

Bunn says she and Fagan chose this workshop so students could learn to be resilient through life’s shortcomings and disappointments, both great and small.

“Students first completed a self-assessment to discover personal strengths and weaknesses,” Bunn says. “Then they learned strategies and tools to increase their EQ and better deal with emotional challenges brought on by the pandemic, such as the disappointment of the Italy cancellation or other challenges in their lives.”

Another interactive session brought the students together with Rosemary Lanzi, president of the Italian American Society of Birmingham, and Darlene Negrotto, president and CEO of Vulcan Park and Museum. Using Zoom, Lanzi spoke with students about Birmingham’s rich Italian history, and Negrotto shared a closer look at Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, who created Vulcan, the iconic iron man overlooking Birmingham.

The students also researched and connected with Italian pen pals of similar age and interests through Global Pen Friends, an online site that connects pen pals from around the world. Many students said the experience was so enriching that they plan to keep the pen pal relationships going after the semester ends.

Finally, Bunn invited students to join her for an Italian dinner cook-along in place of the farewell dinner she hosts for the students each year. This time, of course, it was over Zoom. Bunn posted a list of ingredients and supplies, and students joined her online as she and her husband walked them through creating the classic “spaghetti with marinara sauce.”

“I really got a chuckle from seeing all the students in Zoom scurrying around in their kitchens with a random family member or friend passing by to say hello,” says Bunn. “You could smell the sauce, and you could feel the resilience simmering.”